Should I Be Scared?
You’ve probably seen this: A toddler, running through a playground, trips and falls. He looks up at his mom or dad. If they look concerned, he starts bawling. If they react mildly, he gets up and goes back to playing.
Your dog looks to you the same way.
I’ve seen it with Honey.
Dogs Look To Us For Courage
Luckily for Honey, I don’t startle easily. Whether it’s a neighbor tossing boxes off his porch two feet in front of us, sudden gunshots, or even banging my head on a low ceiling joist, I react little on the outside.
I’ve spotted Honey looking for my reaction when something strange happens around the house or out on a walk.
My calmness doesn’t eliminate her fears. After all, she is her own dog.
But I think it helps her recover faster when being startled.
Now, who should I look to when I get scared?
Scared? Get Out of Your Head (and Into Someone Else’s)
The problem with being a grown up is that we can make scary things even scarier just by thinking about them. But we can also look farther to find inspiration when we’re scared.
Mike and Honey and I are looking toward a future life aboard a sailboat.
The thought of selling all we own, finding a new way to support ourselves, and exposing ourselves to whatever nature dishes out is pretty scary.
So like a toddler or a dog who looks up to see if whoever they’re with is startled by the same thing that frights them, I look for role models who have done what we’re attempting. And then I say to myself, “If they can do it, we can too.”
I read a lot of books by cruising sailors. But one of the most compelling was Ocean to Cross: Daring the Atlantic, Claiming a New Life.
Liz and Peter Fordred had never sailed before. They lived in landlocked Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). They built their own sailboat and trucked it to South Africa, taking off as newbie sailors to cross the Atlantic from dangerous Cape Horn.
Oh, and did I mention they were both paraplegics?
Suddenly, taking off on a sailboat with my husband and dog doesn’t sound so scary.
Fear is Important; But Not Too Important
Fear is normal for dogs. Fear is normal for humans. The challenge for both of us is to appreciate the benefits of fear (keeping us from doing stupid stuff to get us killed) while not being overwhelmed by it.
Once we find ourselves in fear’s grip, it’s very hard to break out of it. I’m not saying anything new to anyone who lives with a fearful dog.
Building a pup’s confidence is a slow and arduous process. It takes time to rebuild new pathways in the brain.
It also takes time for people to learn how to be brave. But it’s not going to happen without testing our courage a little at a time. And looking to others to see if we really have anything to be scared about.